October 16, 2018

More than a concert

Veteran musician Matthew Lazar said in a recent interview that “singing in a choir is paradigmatic of community,” but a choir, as shown by the 18th annual HaZamir Festival and Gala Concert, also creates community.

Held on March 27, the concert featured nearly 300 members of HaZamir, the International Jewish High School Choir — all teenagers from Los Angeles, Israel and elsewhere in the United States, representing “so many different walks of life,” said Lazar, founder and director of HaZamir’s parent organization, the Zamir Choral Foundation.

“Affiliated teens, nonaffiliated teens, boys singing with their tzitzit on … with girls on the other end of the spectrum who wear a kippah on their heads,” he added.

The choir performed for two hours in the Frederick P. Rose Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center, celebrating 18 years since Lazar founded HaZamir.

HaZamir, which means “nightingale” in Hebrew, was created to provide an alternative to state choirs, which typically feature students singing Christian music. Students in HaZamir sing Jewish and Israeli works.

Twelve students from local high schools, including Milken Community High School, Shalhavet School and Beverly Hills High School, traveled to New York to perform, accompanied by Kelly Shepard, department chair of performing arts at Milken and the conductor of HaZamir’s Los Angeles Chapter.

Vivian Lazar, director of HaZamir and Matthew Lazar’s wife, emphasized the bonds that students form during the three-day trip. She said that the students who perform in the annual concert multiple times throughout their time in middle school and high school often opt to room with students from HaZamir’s Israeli chapter, rather than stay in a room with people from their own chapter.

Celine Torkan, a 10th-grader at Milken who performed with HaZamir, said that she immediately became “best friends” with the girls she shared a hotel room with during the weekend — girls from Cleveland.

“I was just surprised how easy it was to talk to the people and how friendly everybody was,” said Torkan, who sang a solo during the performance of “Chai.” 

For Shepard, who conducted the choir during “Banu” and “Heal Us Now,” the sight of students singing together was powerful.

“To see 250 kids on stage singing Jewish choral music and experiencing the richness of that music, in that sort of setting, with … other teens who are like-minded in that regard,” he said, “it’s a very powerful statement on the power of music and kids coming together to support Israel and support music in general.”